Digger drivers learn valuable skills
Ihave been a journalist for a little more than a year and have learnt that interviews where you need a high-visibility vest are often the most interesting.
That was certainly the case when I visited the Waikato Digger School at Swaps Quarry on Taotaoroa Rd last week.
Wearing my two- sizestoo-big gumboots, I set out from the office, not really knowing what to expect.
Quarry workers watched curiously as I pulled into the visitor car park to wait for my ride up to the school.
It wasn’t long before programme co-ordinator Gerry Burger turned up and we were navigating the steep gravel road.
You could tell Gerry had driven it 100 times before as he chatted about the school and what it has to offer.
He has been working there since it opened five years ago and says it is one of the only campuses of its type in the country.
The 14 students enrolled are a third of the way through their 30-week Civil Plant Operation qualification.
Offered through Tai Poutini Polytechnic in Greymouth, it is a NZQAapproved course that prepares students to enter civil construction and extractive industries.
‘‘The end result is they are valued, skilled, employable civil construction workers.’’
The course is 80 per cent practical, with students working on projects such as preparing house sites, laying drains, building roads and traffic control.
With that in mind, it’s time for me to hand over my camera and notebook and try it for myself.
Gerry points me in the direction of a small digger; he tells me the smallest ones are the hardest to operate.
I’m not too sure how I am going to manage – I can’t even drive a manual car.
I can’t help grinning as I take the controls and Gerry talks me through the basic safety. He is a good teacher.
Students look on with amusement as I drive the digger back and forth and pick up a mound of dirt.
He lets me muck around for a bit and then takes me to meet the other tutor Kris Fannin.
Kris worked at Swaps Quarry for 15 years and has a lot of knowledge to pass onto the students.
I talk some of the boys into having their photo taken and I know it’s time to head back to the office. I don’t want to leave.
Gerry says they don’t have visitors often but he would like to show more people around.
The next intake course is in July.
For information go to tpp.ac.nz or phone Gerry on 027 672 1200.
Learning the ropes: Chronicle journalist Nicola Stewart takes a digger for a spin. INSET: Some of the boys: Tutor Kris Fannin, student Matt Murtagh, programme co-ordinator Gerry Burger and student Joe Temo at the Waikato Digger School.